Product Intel Compute Stick
Specs Intel Atom Z3735F 1.3GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of flash storage, 103x37x12mm, one USB 2.0 port, one microSD port, connects via HDMI
Price From £79.98 (as tested)
WELL, THIS is disappointing. The concept of a plug-and-play PC, a full-fat Windows computer smaller than a packet of tissues, is incredibly appealing - and the Intel Compute Stick promised to make it work. The problem is that it just doesn't work very well.
That's our impression after a couple of days using it, despite a handful of almost redeeming features: it's dirt cheap, the shrunken form factor is very cool, and again, it's a capital idea, but our enthusiasm quickly waned once this PC-on-a-stick was out of the box and plugged into a TV. Here's why.
It's meant to park itself in an HDMI port around the back of a telly, but the Compute Stick is still a sleek-looking bit of kit. At 103x37x12mm, it won't require the TV to be too far from the wall, although on one of the two flatscreens we used, we couldn't insert the Compute Stick until we'd made room by removing an HDMI cable from a neighbouring port.
That was a problem we could get round, but the difficulties really start with the Compute Stick's lack of ports. In addition to a microUSB connector, which will always be filled by the power cable, it includes only one microSD and one full-sized USB port. See what's wrong there? It's impossible to use a wired mouse and a wired keyboard at the same time, to say nothing of headsets or USB sticks, unless you shell out for a splitter or suffer the input lag of Bluetooth peripherals. So much for plug-and-play.
Meanwhile, the Compute Stick's tiny fan, while cute, emits an annoying high-pitched whine under heavy load. It's not even that great at cooling, as the Compute Stick became piping hot to the touch just a few minutes after we booted it up.
This first boot was also met with a 'Your PC did not start correctly' error message - seldom a good sign. After a quick restart, though, we were on our way to installing the hefty system update it apparently required, before sitting at a 'Configuring Windows features - 100 percent complete' for about an hour. Only then were we able to sign in.
To be fair, the Compute Stick's set-up on the software side doesn't require much more effort or input than any other Windows device - it just takes a lot longer than we'd like.
The Compute Stick runs Windows 8.1 with Bing which, as far as we can tell, is functionally and aesthetically identical to plain old Windows 8.1. That means the tedious Metro tile interface, but also extensive compatibility with desktop programs. Want to install Office 365 on the Compute Stick? Adobe Creative Cloud? Box? Avast? You can, and more.
Pleasantly, there's no bloatware at all. The only pre-installed applications are those that come with Windows 8.1 by default, and there's not a single Intel-branded program or dubiously useful 'utility' in sight. We've mostly complained about the Compute Stick so far, but we have to applaud Intel for its hands-off approach here.
Since it runs genuine Windows 8.1, the Compute Stick is also eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10. This would probably be for the best, as the new OS brings back the classic desktop view/Start menu combo from Windows 7; much more suitable for mouse-and-keyboard devices like the Compute Stick.
In fact, while Windows 10 hadn't launched when the Compute Stick hit the shelves - hence its now outdated OS - we wouldn't be surprised if Intel started adding the operating system to newly manufactured units itself.